Eggs are a nutritious food that are rich in protein. Some people choose to consume raw eggs as a protein supplement, often mixing them into shakes or smoothies. However, there are some potential health risks associated with drinking raw eggs. In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of drinking eggs for protein.
Is drinking raw eggs safe?
Drinking raw eggs does come with some safety concerns. Raw eggs may contain salmonella bacteria, which can cause food poisoning. The elderly, pregnant women, young children and those with weakened immune systems are at the highest risk. However, the risk of salmonella in commercially sold eggs is low.
Are raw eggs a good source of protein?
Yes, raw eggs are high in protein. One large egg provides about 6 grams of protein. However, cooking eggs denatures some of the protein, making more of it accessible for our bodies to absorb and use.
How much protein do eggs provide?
One large raw egg contains about 6 grams of high-quality complete protein. Egg protein is very bioavailable, meaning our bodies can digest and absorb it efficiently.
Is drinking raw eggs safe during pregnancy?
Raw eggs are not considered safe to consume during pregnancy due to the risk of salmonella infection, which can be especially dangerous during pregnancy. Pasteurized egg products can provide a safer alternative.
Nutritional Profile of Eggs
Eggs are packed with nutrients:
- High in protein – One large egg provides about 6 grams of protein, including all 9 essential amino acids.
- Rich in choline – Eggs are one of the best dietary sources of the nutrient choline, which supports brain and liver health.
- Good source of vitamin D – Eggs provide about 10% of the recommended daily value (DV) for vitamin D per serving.
- Contains vitamin A, selenium, vitamin B12, riboflavin and folate.
- Plus vitamins E, K, and B6, along with zinc, iron, calcium, and potassium.
The protein found in eggs has the highest biological value of any dietary protein source. This means our bodies can digest and utilize egg protein very efficiently.
Eggs also contain all 9 essential amino acids required to build and maintain muscle tissue:
Benefits of Eggs for Protein
Drinking raw eggs may provide the following benefits:
Highly bioavailable protein
Egg protein has a biological value of 100, meaning it contains the perfect balance of amino acids for human nutrition. Our bodies can easily digest, absorb and utilize egg protein.
Help build and maintain muscle
The high-quality protein in eggs provides the amino acids required to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. This makes eggs a good choice for building and maintaining muscle mass.
Support exercise performance and recovery
Some research indicates that consuming eggs around workouts helps enhance exercise performance and speed up recovery. The amino acids in eggs may help repair exercise-induced muscle damage.
Promote satiety and weight management
Eggs are very filling. The protein helps promote satiety and may support healthier body weight. One study found that eating eggs for breakfast helped participants feel fuller and eat fewer calories later in the day compared to a bagel breakfast.
Provide key nutrients
In addition to high-quality protein, raw eggs provide a range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that support good health.
Potential Downsides of Drinking Raw Eggs
Despite their nutritional value, there are some potential downsides to drinking raw eggs:
Risk of salmonella poisoning
Salmonella is bacteria that can cause foodborne illness or salmonellosis. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. While the risk is low, salmonella contamination remains a concern with raw eggs. Vulnerable populations including pregnant women, young children, older adults and those with weakened immune systems are at the greatest risk.
Consuming only raw egg whites over time could lead to biotin deficiency. Raw egg whites contain avidin, a protein that binds to biotin and can impair absorption of this important B vitamin. Heating eggs deactivates avidin.
Lack of nutrients from egg yolks
Most of an egg’s beneficial nutrients are found in the yolk, including healthy fats, choline, vitamins A, D, E, K and B12. Consuming only egg whites would mean missing out on these key nutrients.
High in cholesterol (in yolks)
Egg yolks are a concentrated source of cholesterol – about 184 mg per large yolk. Consuming eggs may increase cholesterol levels in some individuals. However, research suggests eggs have a relatively neutral impact on blood cholesterol for most people.
Health Risks of Drinking Raw Eggs
There are some specific health risks associated with consuming raw egg drinks:
Salmonella causes an estimated 1.2 million illnesses each year in the U.S. Symptoms usually appear 12-72 hours after ingestion and last for 4-7 days. Raw and undercooked eggs are a major source of outbreaks. However, thanks to improvements in food safety, less than 1 in 20,000 eggs are contaminated today.
In addition to salmonella, raw eggs may contain other disease-causing organisms like E. coli and Listeria that can also cause food poisoning. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever.
Consuming raw egg whites on a regular basis can potentially lead to biotin deficiency, which may cause symptoms like hair loss, rashes, dry skin, weakness and fatigue. Cooking eggs deactivates the protein avidin that impairs biotin absorption.
Increased risk of chronic disease
Raw eggs may contain contaminants that increase inflammation in people with diabetes and heart disease. However, more research is needed on this potential risk.
Tips for Safely Consuming Raw Eggs
If you choose to include raw eggs in your diet, here are some tips to reduce your risk of illness:
- Use only fresh, properly refrigerated, clean, grade A or AA eggs with intact shells.
- Avoid consuming raw eggs if you are in a higher-risk group including pregnant women, young children, older adults and those with compromised immune systems.
- Make sure you are getting enough biotin from other dietary sources or supplements if regularly consuming raw egg whites.
- Pasteurized shell eggs or egg products can provide a safer alternative to raw eggs.
- If choosing raw eggs, consider using gentler pasteurization methods like holding eggs in 135°F water for 75 minutes.
- Only use raw eggs in dressings, sauces and foods that will be cooked or baked thoroughly to kill any bacteria present.
Following proper food handling and preparation practices can further reduce any risks associated with raw eggs.
Pasteurized vs Raw Eggs
Pasteurized eggs provide an alternative way to obtain many of the benefits of raw eggs while minimizing the potential risks:
Pasteurized eggs have been briefly heated to destroy any potential salmonella or other pathogenic bacteria. This makes them safer to consume raw.
Pasteurization doesn’t significantly impact the nutrient content of eggs. Both raw and pasteurized eggs provide high-quality protein and important vitamins and minerals.
Taste and texture
Properly pasteurized eggs are often indistinguishable from raw eggs in terms of taste, appearance and texture.
Pasteurized eggs will be clearly labeled as such. Look for terms like “pasteurized” or “heat-treated” on the package.
Pasteurized eggs typically cost somewhat more than conventional raw eggs. But many consider this added cost worth it for the added safety.
Pasteurized eggs may not be as widely available as raw eggs. They are most likely to be found at health food stores or specialty grocers.
Overall, pasteurized eggs provide a safer way to obtain many of the nutritional benefits of raw eggs while avoiding the potential downsides.
Healthiest Ways to Eat Eggs
While raw eggs do provide sound nutrition, there are other healthy ways to enjoy eggs:
Eggs can be cooked in many ways including boiling, poaching, scrambling, frying or baking. Cooking makes eggs safer and may improve digestibility of the protein.
Eggs from hens raised on pasture contain higher levels of omega-3s and vitamin E. Look for the terms “pastured” or “pasture-raised” on the label.
Also called balut, fertilized eggs provide all the benefits of eggs plus additional nutrients. However, they may not appeal to all tastes.
Try new preparations
Experiment with new egg dishes like frittatas, omelets, quiches or shakshuka to enjoy the versatility of eggs.
Add to smoothies
For a protein boost, add cooked egg whites or pasteurized eggs to your smoothies. The eggs provide a rich, creamy texture.
Eggs are among the most nutritious foods and provide a range of health benefits. Drinking raw eggs may be an convenient way to obtain high-quality complete protein and important micronutrients.
However, raw eggs do carry an increased risk of salmonella and other contaminants compared to cooked eggs. Pasteurization reduces these risks while maintaining many of the benefits of raw eggs.
The healthiest approach may be to enjoy eggs prepared in a variety of cooked and baked dishes rather than relying on raw egg drinks. This allows you to obtain the full nutritional benefits of eggs while avoiding the potential downsides of raw consumption.
As with any food, moderation and variety are key for getting the most from eggs. Enjoy eggs as part of a balanced diet alongside plenty of other nutrient-dense whole foods.